Citroen

Article excerpt

The French automotive brand has excelled in innovation, from economy and commercial models to luxury cars.

The first Citroen vehicle, the Type A, rolled out of the plant in 1919 The first manufacturer in Europe to use production-line assembly techniques pioneered by Ford, founder Andre-Gustave Citroen was able to cheaply produce and mass-market his vehicles.

Further models such as the 5CV, initially available only in yellow and thus known as the 'petit citron' (little lemon), were a success. Citroen continued to break new ground with models such as the Traction Avant. Launched in 1934, it was the first European car with an all-steel, monocoque body, designed by US engineer Edward G Budd.

The front-wheel drive Avant showcased numerous innovations, including hydraulic brakes and independent wheel suspension. Engineer Andre Lefebvre and designer Flaminio Bertoni created a new concept characterised by a low gait, long body and curved wheel arches. Nicknamed the 'gangster car', it could outrun police vehicles; its resilience was demonstrated in an early version of a crash test, where the car was pushed off a cliff but could still be driven away.

The same year, the business was rescued from bankruptcy by tyre-maker Michelin. Under new president Pierre Michelin, Citroen returned to more commercially viable mass-produced cars.

Lefebvre and Bertoni began working on another revolutionary concept, with Citroen's vice-president and head of engineering and design, Pierre-Jules Boulanger: the Citroen 2CV.

The model was due to launch in 1939, but the outbreak of war meant this was put on hold; this gave them extra time to perfect the design. Eventually making its debut at the 1948 Paris Motor Show, the 2CV was a cheap-to-run, rugged, mass-market vehicle ideal for the post-war population. It proved a huge success, staying in production until 1990.

Lefebvre, Bertoni and Boulanger also worked on a successor to the Traction Avant. At the opposite end of the spectrum to the 2CV, the DS 19 was an instant hit on its unveiling at the 1955 Paris Motor Show.

Beneath its sleek body and sloped nose, further innovations such as hydro-pneumatic suspension and dual-circuit braking systems meant the car was more than just a pretty face. Nicknamed 'the goddess', the car had an impact on the design direction of Citroen and its influence can be seen in later models.

No Citroen model has recaptured the revolutionary design and spirit of the DS. Following a takeover by Peugeot in the 70s, Citroen has since focused more on mid-market models with wider appeal.

CITROEN TIMELINE

1923: A Citroen 5CV became the first car to be driven around Australia. …